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The Big Bang, SPACES' exhibit of works by recent graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Art, curated by painting department head Julie Langsam, to mark the Institute's 125th anniversary.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
WHEN THE LAKE FREIGHTER the Edmund Fitzgerald sank November 10, 1975, the media was filled with speculation about what exactly happened out there in Lake Superior: Maybe a huge wave engulfed one end of the ship and it took on water, or maybe hatch covers were faulty or not properly closed, and the water flowed in. One of the most dramatic theories was that the 729-foot ship rode up between two high waves. While the waves supported the bow and stern, the ship's massive hull crossed the air space between them like a bridge and - laden with a heavy cargo of iron ore, and without a cradle of water beneath - it simply broke in two.
Ben Grasso was born in Cleveland four years after that legendary wreck, but the Cleveland Institute of Art graduate's "untitled (barge)" painting renders the image of a ship collapsing in mid-air against a blue sky, and anyone familiar with Great Lakes history can't help but see the parallel. The words "crumbling" or "shattering" come to mind, such is the torrent of splintered wooden planks tumbling down the middle of the canvas, as if from a ruptured shopping bag full of popsicle sticks. The painting is about the glory of disintegration more than it is about the ship. This you can see in the simple deck, all but devoid of detail, and all the energy whirling in those hundreds of splintering boards. It's big - 72 by 48 inches - and it's easily the most dramatic image in The Big Bang, SPACES' exhibit of works by recent graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Art, curated by painting department head Julie Langsam, to mark the Institute's 125th anniversary.
A sister exhibit, From Here to Infinity, features work of artists more advanced in their careers, at the Reinberger Galleries of CIA.
Building an exhibit out of some 36 recent graduates from an art school is inevitably a sprawling endeavor, with subject matter, media, technique and motivations running all over the map. But in The Big Bang - which you might interpret as a reference to those young artists' collective attempt, once out of school, to make an impact on the world - there seems to be a lot of things breaking, decaying or somehow diseased, and no matter how divergent the artists' materials and ways of using them, many find beautiful forms in life going awry, and environments - especially urban environments - spinning out of control.
Around the corner from Grasso's collapsing barge, for example, Derek Galvin's steel and hardware sculpture "Need a Lift" has a tangle of steel rods erupting from a steel work table, cracked in the middle, one end seemingly overloaded by the weight of a stocky old vise, paradigmatically mounted on the corner. The work table isn't just breaking, but in the tangle of welded steel rods seems to be giving birth to something. The angles captured there embody energy that seems to be splitting the table apart in an effort to get out.
Across the room on another wall there's Sarah Chuldenko's oil on linen painting, "untitled blue," an organic landscape, seemingly composed of liver and intestines, mostly sharp-edged and well-defined, with the gloss of moisture you might expect on fresh organs, but some of them marred by blurry explosions here and there like ruptures, hernias or cancers. The sensual and revolting subject matter is only some of her story. It's also about the interplay of color: The flesh and oxblood palate she uses in the mess of innards jumps off a flat background of pale blue, like a saint against an idealized sky in a religious painting from the Renaissance.
Scott Goss's works in baked plate glass and copper render what could be Cleveland streets, the silhouettes of low commercial and industrial buildings against red and blue skies strangled by telephone and power lines. A pattern of cracks through the color of the skies makes them seem to be on fire. In "This Random City of Mine," a little boy plays in that kind of urban street, apparently confident no traffic will be coming by soon, while adults walk on sidewalks. The whole gritty scene is made surreal, though, by dozens of bunnies which also happen to be sharing the road.
Erica Neola's collection of 16 color photos, stacked in a grid like glass block, find line, form and texture in the city. She makes abstractions that just happen to have subject matter: a cinder block wall painted red, tagged with graffiti, dotted with a row of water meters, their pipes making their way off the wall in a zigzag of parallel lines; an orange cone in front of a brick brown wall, a line through the middle comprising five courses of brick with a bad tuckpointing job; a garbage can looking monumental in the corner of a parking lot in a park, behind it mowed grass and a horizon of trees; a block wall painted chartreuse, tagged with the word "doom."
STILL OTHER WORKS by the recent graduates wonder about the world and grapple with the human condition with less torment. Joann Harrah's "Waxing And Waning" is a sculpture installed behind two steel doors and a wall panel - triple safe in the vault, an expression of dreams. It's a hairy mobile of little white rocking chairs falling like rain from white and red clouds of string, angles of thought connected by a few of the strings to the black-and-white photo of a woman's head, her scalp embroidered by the same curly threads. Behind the nocturnal thought clouds and the shower of white rocking chairs, an arc of moons crosses the back wall of the vault, each in a different phase of the cycle, dotted with words, an entropy of thoughts: cars, tea with milk, didn't like her hair down, hiccups, baseball, and on like that in the random way that a person's consciousness is informed.
Timothy Callaghan's acrylic, ink and oil on linen piece, "Phone books, bibles, and other un-read books," presents these volumes not so much as neglected - even though the sitting dog's back is turned and the blue chair is empty - but placed there on the table with the intention of eventual reading. The whole scene is composed by a window, where a dog sits looking out, alert to something. What's he watching, where is his master, and why are these particular books unread, and finally, will they remain ever so?
A series of photo prints by the late Lauren Bugaj - CIA class of 2002, who died without warning of a brain aneurism late in 2006 - show everyday people living everyday lives with dry, well-composed realism: a woman at the lake, the seagulls in turmoil above, the Canada geese peacefully bobbing in the water below, and a rock pier curving out past her, and her gaze looking beyond that. There's a boy in a fleece-lined aviator hat, the ear flaps loose, and him holding up by their tails two rats, his happy face vividly clear, his near arm slightly out of focus; there's a girl curled in a chair; there's a row of empty umbrella tables, metal ones painted aqua. There's a carnival scene with no people, but a ticket booth and behind it the whirl of a Ferris wheel, lit up and spinning in the night.
The real star of the show, though, is what all these folks have in common: The Cleveland Institute of Art, founded as the Cleveland School of Art, in 1882. SPACES and CIA deserve credit for working together to commemorate the school's 125th anniversary, and the two-show format, marking artists in different stages, works in honor of an institution whose role is to prepare them for whatever the next stage of their careers may be. Here's hoping the CIA continues sending new artists into the world for at least another 125 years.
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